She Tempts the Duke(Lost Lords of Pembrook,Book 1)(15) by Lorraine Heath
“Why did you not say? He’s here to see my father then. Not me.” And why? Why would he seek out her father? Why had he not come specifically to see her? Why did it pain her so that he hadn’t? Because they were friends, that was all. It was no more than that.
“My apologies, m’lady. I know only that I was sent to fetch you as the duke wishes to speak with you.”
“Yes, I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be so irascible.” And why the deuce was she apologizing to a servant? Because she was flustered by Sebastian’s arrival.
Not waiting for the butler to escort her—she was after all quite familiar with the location of her father’s library—she hurried from the room and down the hallway. She wasn’t certain why she felt such a need to rush or who it was that she thought might need protecting—Sebastian or her father.
As soon as she was near the library, the footman opened the door and bowed slightly as she glided past. Her father’s study was small. A wall of shelves, a few chairs scattered about, and his massive desk. When she was a child, she would sit on his lap while he read reports from his estate manager.
Now he stood by the fireplace, an empty tumbler in hand. She suspected he dearly wanted to refill it but Sebastian was gazing out the window near the table that housed all manner of spirits. His dark blue jacket was finely cut, outlined the broad expanse of his shoulders. Even at this distance, she could see that there was strength in his back. Tall and erect, he stood with a military bearing. Or perhaps it was simply a mark of self-discipline, although he’d come close to losing it last night. She didn’t want to consider that had she not stepped in, he might have never released his uncle. The fury distorting his features—while she understood it—had also been remarkably unsettling.
At the sound of her clicking heels, he turned in such a way that he could see her clearly but the disfigured portion of his face was not visible to her, and she realized that he’d deliberately chosen his position near the windows with that purpose in mind. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught her father’s shudder because he was able to view what she could not. He’d never possessed much in the way of a cast-iron stomach, but still his reaction irritated her. Based upon the small bit of information Sebastian revealed last night, he’d been a soldier. As such he was deserving of their consideration and gratitude. Coming to a stop only a few feet from her childhood friend, she curtsied. “Your Grace.”
“Come, Mary. Surely such formalities are not needed between us.”
His voice was rough, as though his throat had been scraped raw. She noticed it last night, but for some reason it seemed more so now. She couldn’t help but believe that a different life would have given a different timbre to his voice.
“It’s lovely to see you . . . Keswick.”
He released a low bark of laughter. “You are the first outside of family to address me by my title.”
She scowled at her father, who had the good grace to blush before shifting his gaze longingly at the decanters. She turned her attention back to their guest. “Rather appropriate, don’t you agree, that it should be I?”
“Quite. I was hoping you might take a turn about the garden with me.”
“That’s hardly appropriate,” her father said. “She’s betrothed, man.”
“Yes, so I heard,” Sebastian said, never taking his gaze from her. “While I’ve not had the honor of meeting him, I do know Fitzwilliam is a most fortunate man.”
She felt the heat burning her cheeks. “You’re very kind.”
Sadness touched his remaining eye. “No, Mary, I fear I’m not.”
“Being in service to the Queen changed you I suppose.”
“A good many things changed me.”
She nodded, suddenly at a loss for words, wishing her father wasn’t close enough to hear what they might say. “I must retrieve my wrap . . . and my lady’s maid. She may serve as our chaperone. If you’ll be so good as to excuse me for a few moments?”
“I’ll meet you in the garden.”
He gave a quick nod.
“You don’t mind do you, Father?” She thought he intended to object again but then his gaze swung to Keswick, and he did little more than mutter, “No, of course not.”
She couldn’t deny that Keswick could be quite intimidating. She suspected her father would be shaking in his boots if he’d witnessed the incident at last night’s ball.
She strolled from the room, hoping she gave no indication that her nerves were tingling. As soon as she was through the doorway and heard the quiet snick as the footman closed the door, she scampered down the hallway. She had a thousand questions for him, hoped he would provide a thousand answers, but she thought it unlikely. He was very different from the lad with whom she’d ridden across fields. But surely a small piece of him still existed somewhere.
In her room, she rang for her maid, then snatched up her shawl and draped it over her shoulders. She went to her vanity and dabbed perfume behind her ears. A silly thing to do, and yet she couldn’t help herself. She wanted him to look at her as though she were a woman, not a child. Not that she had any interest in him other than friendship, but if he didn’t see her as equal in maturity it was unlikely that he would share all he’d endured these many years. Once no secrets had existed between them. Now she feared there were a good many.
As Sebastian waited in the garden, he couldn’t help but think he’d made an awful mistake in coming here. Lord Winslow had looked at him as though he’d seen a ghost. Surely he’d been told of Keswick’s reentry into Society, so it must not have been his arrival so much as his marred features that had taken the earl by surprise. In truth, he wanted to simply escape to Pembrook and live out his life in solitude, but as he’d made a public appearance he’d decided to get another matter taken care of while he was in London. He would find a wife. Because God help him, he needed an heir. Which meant he’d have to keep himself on public display until the task was done. He did not expect her to love him. He didn’t think it would be possible when he couldn’t even love himself. But once she had seen to giving him an heir, he would grant her freedom. It would be her reward for enduring his presence in her bed.
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